The World Today for March 08, 2018



What’s in a Name

Since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the tiny Balkan country has struggled to overcome Greek objections to an aspect of its national character that’s hard to change: its name.

Technically, the country’s name is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, a backward-looking appellation that rankles many Macedonians. How many Americans would want to be citizens of the United States of the Former British Empire?

But Greece has long objected to Macedonia’s chosen name – the Republic of Macedonia – because leaders in Athens fear their counterparts in Skopje might have designs on the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

“There is only one Macedonia, it is, was and always will be Greek,” said 92-year-old Greek songwriter Mikis Theodorakis at a rally in Athens recently, the Irish Times reported.

Those fears might seem absurd, but a look at historical maps of the Balkans shows how state borders have shifted significantly even as Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and others have endured as nations rooted – and overlapping – in the region for centuries.

Backing up their concerns, Greek leaders have blocked Macedonia from even opening negotiations to join the European Union – a crucial move that could unlock billions in euros for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure and help reform the country’s bureaucracy and business climate.

But things are changing, the Financial Times reported.

Amid talks with the Greek government, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is considering attaching a modifier to his country’s name: the Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), Northern Macedonia, Upper Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia or New Macedonia.

Macedonian authorities have already removed “Alexander the Great” from the name of Skopje’s airport and a major highway as a “goodwill gesture” toward Greece, the Associated Press wrote.

Those moves have borne dividends. EU honchos want to start accession talks with Macedonia, Bloomberg noted.

But Zaev’s constituents aren’t happy. They feel like their premier is bowing to Greek pressure.

“Our country has a name…to change it would mean that the Macedonian identity would be permanently lost,” Todor Petrov, head of a nationalist group called the World Macedonian Congress, said at a recent rally in Skopje.

The situation needs to be resolved soon, Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, wrote in the Washington Post’s opinion section. Russia is seeking influence in the region. Bulgaria also has claims on Macedonia that appear to have subsided – for now. Macedonia’s internal conflicts between Slavic and Albanian ethnic groups have erupted into violence in the past.

Nobody knows what forces might be unleashed if diplomacy fails. When people have a chance at peace and prosperity in exchange for a single adjective, they should probably take it.



Cuts Both Ways

China’s foreign minister warned that Beijing would “make a justified and necessary response” if US President Donald Trump follows through with his pledge to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum this week.

The measures are designed to curb cheap imports, especially those from China, which Trump says have undermined US industry and caused American workers to lose their jobs. The US president has also demanded China lay out plans to reduce its $375.2 billion trade surplus with the US by $1 billion, and he is mulling sanctions related to China’s intellectual property practices and pressure on foreign companies for technology transfers, Reuters reported.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of China’s parliament, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China has no need or intention to take over America’s international role, and a trade war would only damage both countries.

“We hope China and the US will have a calm and constructive dialogue as equals, and find a win-win solution,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Wang as saying.



Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa is getting mixed reviews on his first 100 days in office – as he seeks to root out corruption associated with the 37-year reign of ex-President Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa has instituted free, state-financed medical care for children and the elderly and a temporary reduction in fuel prices, Al-Jazeera reported. He has also proposed special anti-corruption courts and overseen the arrests of several high-profile public figures on allegations of graft, on top of already having clawed back at least $250 million out of an estimated $1.3 billion stashed abroad with a three-month amnesty scheme he introduced in December.

Skeptics say there are still corrupt officials in Mnangagwa’s own cabinet and his job creation strategy has yet to yield results. But one policy expert who worked on the 100-day plan told the news agency that deals with Belarus, Russia and China, as well as a $400 million deal to upgrade the railways and a $20 million lifeline to the Cold Storage Company (CSC), are “significant indicators that show it is possible to embark on change and the political leadership to do so is there.”


A Political Saint

An archbishop who spoke out against El Salvador’s death squads and was assassinated by a sniper for his words will be named a saint by the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has announced.

Archbishop Óscar Romero was a prominent critic of the brutal tactics of the US-backed Salvadorean army during the country’s 12-year civil war from 1980 to 1992. The church said in a statement that Pope Francis signed decrees on Tuesday approving his canonization, along with that of Pope Paul VI, who oversaw many of the reforms the Catholic Church underwent in the 1960s, the BBC reported.

Romero was gunned down on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel, just a day after he chastised the country’s National Guard and police, saying, “The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill. It is high time you recovered your conscience.”

No one has been prosecuted for his murder, and his beatification was blocked for decades by conservative Cardinals who believed he was killed because of his politics rather than his preaching.


Best in Show

It may very well become the most-watched ski run of this year’s Winter Olympics – but not because it was a medal-winning performance.

A video of American-born Hungarian Elizabeth Swaney’s halfpipe run in Pyeongchang, in which she did no tricks whatsoever and merely glided through the course, has garnered over 1.5 million views and over 1,000 comments on Twitter – many of which accuse the Harvard grad of scamming the Olympics’ selection procedure, CNN reported.

For many athletes, Olympic qualification requires a particular number of top-30 World Cup finishes. Swaney had 13 of them by attending competitions with fewer than 30 athletes competing, according to the Independent.

While some lambasted Swaney for gaming the system and congratulated her on her “moment of shame,” others remarked that their ire should be directed at selection procedures, not Swaney.

For her part, Swaney, who’s the first person to represent Hungary in skiing at the Olympic games, told the Denver Post she hopes to inspire others in her adopted nation to take up the sport.

After all, her whirlwind journey to the Olympics is one for the movies, Yahoo Sports wrote.

“I want to show people that, yeah, it’s possible to get involved in freestyle skiing through a variety of backgrounds,” she said.

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